I know that my wife has cheated on me several times, but she still denies that she did. What should I do according to the Bible? I cannot leave her because I am doing ministry work for the Lord. If I divorce her, it will affect my ministry. I do not want to mess with my ministry.
What should a pastor, an elder, a deacon or someone else involved in a ministry do when their spouse cheats or them and commits adultery? This is a common question for both pastors and lay people. This brief study answers the important question, “Does God want me to leave the ministry since my wife cheated on me?”
God’s Qualifications For Those In Ministry
God has clearly told us how to identify men who are qualified to be leaders in a church in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. That is, God has given us qualifications for selecting or determining which persons can minister as elders and deacons in the church. These qualifications eliminate many men from being elders or deacons and women from being deaconesses because God has established high standards. Some churches use these qualifications at the time they select leaders, but a closer examination reveals that many churches actually ignore the qualifications when selecting individuals for leadership positions.
Consequently, unqualified men and women are asked to be elders even though it is clear that 1 Timothy 3:1-2 refers to males serving as overseers or elders and not women. Women are only allowed to serve as deaconesses (Romans 16:1; 1 Timothy 3:11). It is common for many churches to select “big givers,” wealthy individuals, business men, the politically influential and founding fathers of the church to fill leadership positions. Sadly, one cannot find these criteria listed as acceptable qualifications for church leaders. But that is often how church leaders are selected. The rationale used is that God’s work will benefit by having such important men as leaders and they can help organize and financially support the church.
But a careful examination of the qualifications reveals that the standard is very high. For example, 1 Timothy 3:2 reveals that God requires an elder to be a man who is committed exclusively to his wife. 1 Timothy 3:2 says that an overseer or elder must be a one-woman-man. He must be exclusively committed to his wife. Such a man will not divorce his wife. This is a stronger requirement than that an individual cannot be divorced or that he cannot have multiple wives.
The other requirements are just as high. This brings us to a qualification that will help us answer the question about which we are concerned. That is, both elders and deacons are required to have their home under control (1 Timothy 3:4-5, 12) and elders must have believing children (Titus 1:6). It is important to note that 1 Timothy 3:4-5 says a church leader, including the pastor, must have his family under control.
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?) . . . 1 Timothy 3:4-5 (NASB)
The Greek word for “under control” is hypogate. It means “to submit” or “to be in submission.” This means that the entire family is to be in submission to the church leader. Not only are the children to be in submission, but the wife must also. This is the same requirement found in Ephesians 5:22-24 and 1 Peter 3:1. This means the wife must in submission to her husband. Since Ephesians 5:25-28 commands the husband to be concerned for her spiritual growth, this means that she must be growing in sanctification. She is becoming more like Christ. She is growing in godliness. This is important since God has given the husband the primary responsibility of helping her to grow in sanctification and to become increasingly blameless. When a wife is disobedient, including committing serious sinful acts, it reveals that something is wrong with his spiritual leadership. The man is not qualified to be a leader in the church, whether he has failed as her husband or she is in rebellion to his leadership. God has allowed this to demonstrate that he must not be a leader or a pastor in a church.
God has given us these qualifications to help determine God’s will in choosing qualified man to serve as His leaders. When men are not qualified, then that man will not receive God’s blessing and the church will suffer. Many ministries have failed or become stagnate because God has “turned His back” on the man in leadership. Three studies called “Church Leadership – Function and Qualifications of Elders,” “What are the qualifications of an elder?” and “Marks of Spiritual Maturity” will provide more information.
Response When A Wife Is An Adulterer
Acts 20:28 teaches that the Holy Spirit is the one who selects overseers or elders in a church.
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. Acts 20:28 (NASB)
But how does the Holy Spirit select men for leadership in a church? The answer is that God the Holy Spirit is the primary, responsible agent for causing a man to become spiritually mature. (Galatians 5:22-23; Philippians 1:6; 2:12-13; Ephesians 5:17-18). Without the Spirit’s work, no man would ever meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9. How else can a man meet such high qualifications, have a spiritually mature wife, have children under control and have children who believe in Christ? Since salvation is the sovereign work of God, the salvation of the children is the work of the Holy Spirit and not the leader or pastor. This clearly teaches that the Holy Spirit prepares a man to be a leader in a church and to be qualified for ministry. Men who do not meet these qualifications have not been prepared by the Holy Spirit and may also be in sin and may have neglected the Word of God.
Yet, some Christians believe and others have argued that a church leader is a victim when his spouse commits adultery and should be allowed to continue in the ministry. That is the world’s viewpoint, but not God’s viewpoint. While it is true the leader is the victim of his spouse’s sin, it is obvious from the qualifications discussed above that he is no longer qualified to be involved in the ministry. He does not have God’s approval or blessing! The Holy Spirit has allowed the man to become disqualified to reveal that God has rejected the man for leadership! Clearly, salvation of the children is not a human work since faith is a gift from God.
While some will point to King David’s sin and argue that God still used him, it is important to note that David was not a priest or a pastor. Yes, Jonah was a prophet who sinned, but he repented and God used him. Yet, we have no record that God continued using him. We must remember that Moses sinned and God ended his ministry and used Joshua. God no longer needed Moses. He had selected Joshua to continue the ministry Moses had started. God was finished with Moses’ earthly ministry! The disappointing truth for us is that God does not really need us!
We must remember that the ministry is not “my ministry.” Our ministry is a calling from God and we are His servants. The Holy Spirit even assigns spiritual gifts to us without asking us our preference (1 Corinthians 12:11). He does not ask us which set of spiritual gifts we want. He does not negotiate with us or check our feelings and wishes. It is completely His choice. We are His servants. When it becomes obvious due to sin that we are no longer qualified, we must submit to His will and leave the ministry even if God had at one time called us to serve! Therefore, when a church leader’s wife sins by committing adultery, he is no longer qualified to continue in the ministry. It is time for him to let another “Joshua” take over!
What is the correct response of a husband whose wife has cheated on him? He needs to forgive her and love her as Hosea did with Gomer. Hosea did not divorce his prostitute wife. He loved her and called her his wife.
The husband also must seek counseling from a counselor who is truly biblically based. If the husband has a ministry, he needs to quit the ministry and devote himself to saving his marriage and rescuing his wife from her sin. She is his priority. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16) and the marriage vow is forever (Matthew 19:6). She is his ministry!! That is the message of 1 Timothy 3:4-5. Honor God and quit the ministry and He will honor you! To do otherwise, reveals that you do not love her and you have failed to meet God’s will to love her (Ephesians 5:25-27).
Suggested Links:Church Leadership – Function and Qualifications of Elders
Marks of Spiritual Maturity
What are the qualifications of an elder?
Who are the elders, overseers and pastors?
Is there a difference between a church leader and a spiritual leader in the church?
Since I am divorced, can I be in the ministry?
What should one do when the pastor does not have integrity?
Do I leave the church if women are elders?
When can a fallen spiritual leader resume his ministry?
What does a Christian do when their pastor sins?